If it were not for the possibility of involving me in condemnation by remaining silent, I would refrain from writing on this subject; but since every individual is held responsible before God for the degree of light he has received, I am duty bound to perform this cheerless task of raising my voice against the soul-destroying sin of joking in the pulpit. It is not necessary for me to define this sin; it is enough to know that it follows the trail of the serpent’s seed.
Who is capable of measuring the extent of the insidious influence of it upon saint and sinner, or what pen can describe the mortal destruction and spiritually paralyzing effect of this deadly octopus upon the church life? Although designed to bring life, the messages of a joking preacher work potential death. The great preachers that were used of God to bring sinners to repentance were not given to levity in the pulpit
In a religious gathering, the facial contortions of one of the preachers while preaching were so ridiculous that he came nearer acting like a clown than anything I have ever witnessed in a preacher. What made it still more intolerable and infinitely worse was that he was a preacher and professor of the great Bible doctrine and experience of entire sanctification. It was supposed to be a Christian worker’s meeting, but it came nearer being a “joking” meeting. A number of us left, grieved and disappointed. Oh, my brethren, “these things ought not so to be.”
The place in the pulpit and its freedom have been purchased with blood–the blood of Jesus Christ and the blood of the martyrs, and should not be abused or misused.
Some preachers and evangelists spend several nights at the opening of a campaign telling jokes and funny stories to draw the crowd. Sometimes, that which otherwise would have been a good sermon is spoiled by cracking a joke. What makes it even more harmful than when it is done during the early part of the message, is when it is done toward the close of it, or during the invitation or the altar service. Often, when the truth grips and convicts hearts, a flippant joke is told, and conviction dissipates in a roar of laughter. Deceived professors of religion call it “getting blessed,” but the saints are grieved, heaven mourns, the devil chuckles, and hell holds jubilee.
Somebody has said, “It seems that some people can’t get blessed unless somebody cuts up.” Then they say, “The Lord was there,” and ask, “Didn’t you feel the power?” How sad that these people cannot distinguish between the presence of the Lord and that of the serpent!
The following letter from a Christian layman should administer a proper rebuke to every joking preacher: “I would like to have a tract to give to preachers who have the foolish habit of standing on the platform and reading a verse or two from the Bible, and then starting with foolish talk, joking, and cutting up to get the people to laugh. There have been some like that here, and it has been something terrible. Even the unsaved people disapprove of their foolish joking.
I don’t believe a preacher should be like a clown in (nor out of) the pulpit.”
When a preacher is given to levity in the pulpit, you may be sure he is given more to it when out of it. Follow the joking preacher, and you will find that in his daily life he spends very little time on his knees. The president of a Bible school related the following:
“I was traveling by rail to the West Coast, arriving in the city of … when four preachers boarded our train. From the time they were seated and on through all the day, they were telling jokes and laughing uproariously. When mealtime came, they marched into the dining car. Then they came back and started right in again. The degree of their levity increased as time went on till I was ashamed of them. In the course of their hilarity, one of their number tried to read the Bible, but he soon laid it aside and joined the other trio in their boisterous merriment. What impression do you suppose the passengers received from this quartet of popular preachers?
What will these preachers answer at the judgment bar of God, when these souls will stare them in the face? Oh my soul, keep thee far away from such deceivers.”
Joking is incompatible with the Spirit of Jesus Christ. It is inconsistent with true Christianity and contrary to the Word of God. St. Paul, in Ephesians 5:4, warns against “foolish talking and jesting” as unbecoming to saints. And if it is unbecoming to saints, how much less becoming for a minister of the gospel, and especially one professing holiness! The apostle places “foolish talking and jesting” in the same catalog with fornication, uncleanness, covetousness and filthiness.
When tempted to crack a joke in the pulpit, preachers should remember the words of Solomon: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour” Eccl. 10:1.
The following excerpts tell their own story. I feel clear in embodying them herewith for the benefit of the readers.
“You speak of wit and humor, of jokes and anecdotes among ministers. Alas, I cannot dwell there! If there be not a speedy end of that, the church is marred, if not undone. I can only say, Keep away from those joking preachers or get them converted to God.
“Swearing and joking are somewhat different, and the former is reputed more profane, but as to religion, after much experience and observation, I have no doubt that they are equally sure to kill religion out of their souls, and make the heart, so far as spiritual graces are concerned, a desert waste.
“A friend suggests a thought, namely: ‘When I was young, Methodist ministers were so solemn in all their words and actions that sinners trembled in their presence.’ But now the most worldly and wicked can meet some of our preachers and play off their jokes on them, as if sure of being received in the spirit of ‘Hail fellow,’ well met.”
“Is it not too true? Oh, my brother, let us die rather than contribute one syllable or glance to perpetuate those practices. Let us watch and pray, lest we enter into temptation.”
LEVITY – This word is written across the face of our generation. Few things are taken seriously. Little is said or done “in dead earnest.” Life itself is a joke. Popular religion even appears to find the chief end of man in looking happy. Its gospel is, Be good, be kind, be cheerful, and smile without ceasing; for this is the law and the prophets! Even gray hairs are expected to wear “the cap and bells.” Repentance? Sorrow for sin? No, that is “bad medicine” for a generation that is supposed only to be amused and entertained.
Putting their “philosophy” into their own frivolous language and its truth, it would read something like this: “If some event should sober you and start you to thinking, ditch it with a joke! If the thunders of the law should reverberate in the conscience of some friend, jolly him out of it! If he wears a sane expression on his face for a change, slap him on the back and tell him to forget it …”
This laughing at everything and everybody sounds too much like the crackling of a burning house.
Our Lord did not win our salvation by telling amusing stories, nor by going through the world laughing. None of the apostles was noted as a humorist, and Paul was not a signal success as a jester.
Oh, for a serious, sane face among these grinning comedy-masks! God has given us our faces to express something better than a continual leer.
If you are amused, a laugh that bubbles up out of the heart will do yourself and others no harm. A smile of loving-kindness is possible even when the heart is sick. But why inhale laughing-gas incessantly? Is it to deaden pain? Or to conceal some gnawing secret within?
Humor is a precious gift of the Creator to humankind. It is the seasoning of our daily life, but spices make a poor substitute for food. Eaten in quantities, they bring on nausea. God pity those who never laugh! But may He save us from the living death of those who can never be serious nor take their life in earnest!
There are a number of sermons, or parts of sermons recorded in the Bible (Matt.5:6-7, Acts 2:14-36, Acts 17:22-31), but in none of them do we find any jokes or any evidence of light-mindedness. If Christ and the apostles did not use jokes in their sermons, it is safe to follow their example. Moreover, we note that their sermons had results which cannot be said of many modern sermons that are full of jokes.
The excuse is sometimes given that the minister has to tell some amusing anecdote to arouse the interest of his hearers and to keep the people awake. But that is not necessary. If the minister is Spirit-filled and preaches the old-time gospel in the power and demonstration of the Spirit, the people will be interested and they will not go to sleep. There are ministers today who can hold an audience spell-bound for an hour by preaching full salvation without any jokes or anything that savors of light-mindedness. When you have to resort to funny stories and amusing incidents in your sermons, it is a confession on your part that you have lost the fire of the Holy Ghost and are trying to find a substitute.
Where there is so much joking and levity, it drives away the Spirit of conviction, and souls have to leave the meeting without the spiritual nourishment which they so much need in order to grow in grace.
Taken from the Voice of the Nazarene
July – Aug. 2003